Ah, dear brothers and sisters there is a blind spot in Christian missions today. The mere mentioning of the blind spot at this point could lose ninety-five percent of those of you reading this first sentence. That would be both unfortunate and unproductive to the purposes of God. Consider the many tools used for prayer and mobilization toward reaching unreached peoples. Most lists include statistics on religions, languages, populations and access to available Bible translations. No blind spot so far.

Most readers of Mission Frontiers are familiar with the term mother tongue which means the primary language a person grows up speaking. This differs from the local trade language which is used in the market to do business with people who have a different mother tongue. But it is through their common trade language which both of them know that they can talk and do business. For the last 100 years in their quest to produce the Scriptures in every language in the world, Bible translators have now translated the Bible into every trade language in the world. What does this mean? This means that the Scriptures are now available to every person in the world in a language they can understand. And so the issue is no longer a matter of having access to the gospel and the word of God. Because most of the unreached people in the world are illiterate, whether they have access to a Bible in a language they understand or not, the main issue is now literacy.

Morris Watkins was the founder of the Lutheran Bible Translators and during his career Morris came to see the blind spot. How’s that for an oxymoron? Morris had come to understand that even when the Bible was made available in a people’s language, the majority of the people in most unreached groups were unable to read it. The blind spot is simply that there is massive illiteracy throughout the unreached peoples of the world.

In missions we’ve glossed over the illiterate by calling these people the more positive sounding term oral learners. Having done this for 14 years, I am now convinced this is not the way to go. I no longer want to leave an oral learner as an oral learner. That person needs to learn to read. If storytelling missionaries like me had spent a fraction of their time the last 14 years starting literacy classes to teach oral learners how to read, the people in Africa and Asia and South America and elsewhere who had been illiterate would now be literate and so much farther down the road toward being disciples and enjoying the abundant life Jesus wants us all to have. (John 10:10)

Our national co-workers in the country where we’ve been working are using our book of Bible stories and say they are seeing great fruit, but that fruit is occurring among people who can read. These evangelists and church- planters are telling us the people who can’t read do not feel confident to share the stories with others and depend on someone else to come and re-tell them the stories. We’ve learned and we believe that storytelling is an excellent methodology for making disciples IF the person can go home and read and re-read the stories over and over again just like we do. Acts 17:11 says, “The people in Berea examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true.” Literacy is an essential component for making disciples. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples.” (Jn 8:31) But it is pretty hard to continue in His Word and examine the Scriptures, the written Word of God, if you don’t know how to read. But what if the people prefer oral learning? I will now answer that by asking a question. What does God prefer?

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